“We have a 5 month old male dog that is very dominant, bites terribly and wants to be the Alpha dog. Every time that we walk through the room he attacks us and bites our ankles. My children sit on the sofa with their legs tucked beneath them. They are a little afraid and of course grumpy but above all angry. We really need some advice on what to do. We don’t want to give up but how can we solve this problem ?”
Puppies bite. Luckily! Biting is an essential step in developing into a mature dog. It seldom causes much damage but it is painful. Puppy teeth are very sharp.
When puppies are still in the litter you already hear squeaks if one puppy bits another on their ears. Oops, that was a bit hard. Next time I’ll bite more softly! This is how puppies learn about bite inhibition, learn to control how hard they bite. Very important for socializing with other dogs and with people.
One simple reason for biting is the emergence of teeth and molars. This is sometimes painful for a dog. They love chewing on hard objects to speed up the process. Just like with babies you can give dogs chewing toys. There are many types available in pet stores. Check that it is safe for your puppy, like the chewing bones brand Nylabone. You can also soak a floss rope with chicken stock (without salt or herbs) and put it in the freezer. This will be ready the next day as a frozen tasty treat for your dog.
Oops, I’m growing up
A young pup needs to learn how the world works. On his journey he wants to put everything in his mouth. People also go through this phase and just like people this phase will be over soon. This does not make the phase any more pleasant, however. Biting not only hurts or something gets destroyed but it can also be dangerous. Sometimes a dog picks up poisonous things like cigarette butts or slug pellets, or dangerous things such as an old plastic sandwich wrapper or a plastic orange net. We dive on top of the dog to open his mouth. You don’t want the dog to die!
Biting is fun!
Puppies learn very quickly. If you dive over a pup to open his mouth every time he picks up something from the ground then the puppy could start liking the attention you are giving him. This is unfortunately negative attention, but still…..that is better than no attention at all. What is more fun than teaching your own boss to come to yóu every time you pick something up! “Lets see… I pick this up now… and yes my boss has seen me… and there he comes. Yipee!”
Of course you need to take action if your dog picks up something poisonous or dangerous. But in most cases I would wait. Stones, branches, rope or similar things will fall out of their mouth eventually. Dogs keep it for a while in their mouths just like chewing gum.
If you really do not want your new high heels to be “explored” try and find an alternative toy or something tasty as a trade. You don’t make a fight our of it; don’t force his jaws open but instead give him something better. If he lets go to take the new toy or treat then you say “leave” at the moment he lets go of your high heels. That way you can also teach him the command “leave”.
Dancing legs and toes
When you walk around the house or sit and move your toes when you are siting at the table, your puppy often sees this as a great game. Sharp puppy teeth can clearly hurt a lot. It won’t be the first family where the kids sit on the sofa with their legs tucked under them and don’t dare to leave. Your puppy is not trying to get a ranking order or being dominant. He just want to play!
One thing is obvious though, you will react if your toes get bitten. Kids jump up, throw their arms in the air, shout “ow ow” and start to dance around. There is no more fun game for a dog!
Helping the bite inhibition
Puppy time is a wonderful time. Your pup learns a lot in a short space of time. Of course you would prefer that the pup learns things that you also want, that he urinates outside, that he sits to be patted, that he walks without pulling on the lead or that he comes when you call. Biting is typical at this age but here you can also teach your pup.
If you are playing with your pup and he bites you, possibly accidentally, then immediately stop playing and turn your back on him for a few counts. There is no bigger punishment for your dog. You stop playing with him!
Some pups also react if you also say “Ow”. They stop biting. If your puppy does not react then don’t continue to shout “Ow”. Dogs can hear very well and screaming and shouting can even hurt their ears.
If your puppy bites in the morning when the kids come down for breakfast, put him in his crate with his bowl of food (after you have let him out for a pee of course). Once everyone has finished breakfast let him out and the children can play with him.
If you are walking though the room and the pup hangs on to your trousers, stand still. Wait until the pup stops (standing still is no fun) and looks the other direction. If he stops biting your trousers continue walking. You can also try distracting him with a toy. If he lets go to take the toy then drop it behind his bottom. He then needs to turn round to pick it up. It also helps if you wear jeans and not (soft) training trousers. Pups don’t like stiff trousers as much and their teeth don’t go as easy through the material.
The crazy hour at the end of the day when some pups run from room to room (not all pups do this) is also a time when pups do silly things and bite everything. The pup has had so many new stimuli during the day that he no longer know what to do. Young children show the same behaviour. We often put them in front of the TV. Your pup can go into his crate with a tasty bone, feeding ball or treat filled Kong. Don’t say anything or get angry; pick him up, put him in the crate and he should calm down very quickly.
An easy exercise for a pup is to get him to sit to get something: say please. Let your puppy smell a treat that you have in your hand, move your hand up towards your chin, stand upright and wait. Most pups look to see where the treat had gone and look up. If your pup is easily distracted you may need to let him smell the treat a second time or use a different, tastier treat. Once your pup looks up to your hand he will often sit down. As soon as he does that then say “good boy” or “well done” and give him the treat.
A young pup learns quickly and after practicing a few time will start spontaneously sitting for you. He is then asking for a treat. This begging behaviour doesn’t matter. In the beginning it is fantastic. He is saying “please can I have a treat”. For the first few weeks that he does this give him a treat every time he sits and you will train him not to jump up or hang around your legs to get attention but instead sit nicely in front of you.
Once the pup gets older you can give him a pat or talk to him to give him your attention. As he gets older still you will not have to react to him asking for attention all the time. You just give him a pat or say something to him if you feel like it, so not every time. In a good relationship, you may take the initiative to connect with the other. It just needs to be no compelling behaviour. Would you like your dog to sit in front of you, you can call your dog, stand upright, say nothing and wait till he sits down for you. You’ve taught him that when he was little, and so easy if you have to put his collar on.
It seems so easy on paper. If you really want to teach a pup well you need to prevent, distract and give an alternative. In between you can also teach him a few cues such as Sit, Leave and Here.
If you would like some help, fill in the Registration form for an appointment on Dog Advice at your home address. I’ll help you with (re)training your puppy.
Especially for families with children I offer you the DoggyIntro for the Children, a separate lesson at your home address (1 ½ hrs), with information and exercises for the children or the Family lessons with the Dog, sessions for the whole familly. Safely growing up together is vital.